North Carolina Supreme Court

Current partisan makeup % Justices of Color
5R-2D 14
Justice Party Next Election Mandatory Retirement
Paul Newby R N/A 2027
Anita Earls D 2028 2032
Phil Berger Jr. R 2028 2044
Tamara Barringer R 2028 ~2031
Richard Deitz R 2030 2049
Trey Allen R 2030 2046
Allison Riggs D 2024 2053

In recent years, the NC Supreme Court has delivered key decisions affecting your access to the ballot box, workers, education, criminal justice and more. These justices — who you elect — have a direct impact on your rights.

Why North Carolina Matters

State supreme courts rule on a variety of issues that directly impact every aspect of life. In recent years, the NC Supreme Court has delivered key decisions affecting access to the ballot box, workers, education, criminal justice and more.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has been plagued by ethics concerns during its most recent term. For example, after Justice Anita Earls – the court’s only Black justice – made comments about racial diversity within the state’s judiciary, a complaint was filed against her, and in response, the state’s Judicial Standards Commission launched an intrusive investigation. Earls then filed a federal lawsuit against the commission for violating her free speech. Ultimately, the commission closed its investigation and found no wrongdoing by Earls, and Earls dropped her lawsuit. But that was only one instance of broader concerns about hyper-partisanship surrounding the court.

North Carolina and its supreme court have historically been ground zero for fighting for access to the ballot in challenges to restrictive voting laws or gerrymandered maps. However, the court most recently reversed its own precedent in a series of cases impacting voting rights that it ruled on just months prior once a new majority on the court came into power. In 2022, the court rejected the state’s maps due to partisan gerrymandering and mandated that new maps be drawn. Those maps were then redrawn and approved by the U.S. Supreme Court. However, in 2023, the court, under its new majority, promptly reheard the case (Harper v. Hall, also called Harper III). As a result, in a new decision, the court effectively greenlit partisan gerrymandering in the state and protected the maps drawn by the state legislature until the next census.

Also in 2022, the court had previously overturned the state’s voter ID requirement because the law would have disproportionately affected Black and poor voters. However, under its new majority in 2023, the court reheard the case – despite nothing in the law changing – and reinstated the voter ID requirement, creating procedural hoops for voters to go through before even getting their ballot, and continuing to chip away at voting rights in the state. In 2023, the court upheld the state’s felony disenfranchisement law, which prevents any person with a felony conviction from voting until the completion of their sentence. Advocates and community organizations fought against this law because an individual is required to pay numerous legal and court fees in order to be released from probation, essentially mandating that an individual must pay before being eligible to vote.

In the landmark Leandro v. State decisions in 1997 and then in 2004, the supreme court found the right for every child in the state to have access to a sound and basic education. As a result, the court mandated schools be funded to do so. The Leandro decision has rippled through other aspects of public education. For example, the court found that the right to education also includes looking at barriers to education like harassment and bullying. However, there have since been challenges to the case and resulting legislation challenging the court’s ability to step in on matters such as funding, which opponents of the Leandro decision claim should be left to the legislature. The new majority on the court decided in 2023 to rehear Leandro. The court has also upheld the state’s voucher program, which diverts funds from public schools for families to use towards paying for private education. While these programs may seem helpful in theory, they often exacerbate existing disparities in the education system.

The North Carolina Supreme Court has also delivered important decisions impacting worker protections. For example, the court previously expanded workers’ compensation beyond physical injuries to include conditions like depression or anxiety. The court also protected tenured teachers after their tenure status was revoked following a 2013 state law.

Nearly every issue affecting daily life appears before the North Carolina Supreme Court. While the court has historically safeguarded the rights of some of the state’s most vulnerable individuals, with the recent hyper partisanship displayed by court leadership, it may no longer be the bulwark for fundamental rights that it used to be. It is critical to understand the impact of its decisions on every single person across the state.

Selection Method

North Carolina selects their supreme court justices through partisan elections. This means that candidates for supreme court run with political party affiliations listed on the ballot. These candidates are also typically endorsed by their respective state political parties. If multiple candidates from each political party are interested in running, they must compete in a primary election. The candidate with the most votes will move onto the general election. If elected, the justice will serve an eight-year term.

Unexpected vacancies on the court are filled by appointments by the governor. Appointees must stand for election, where they can be challenged by another candidate, in the next general election at least 60 days following their appointment.

Current Justices on the Court

Paul Newby, Chief Justice 

  • Chief Justice Paul Newby was elected to the Supreme Court as Associate Justice in 2004. In November 2012 he won re-election, and in November 2020 he was elected as Chief Justice. Chief Justice Newby will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2027.
  • Legal Career
    • Newby started his legal career in private practice, first with the Van Winkle Law Firm in Asheville and then as vice president and general counsel of Cannon Mills Realty and Development Corporation in Kannapolis.
    • After four years, he joined the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of North Carolina as an assistant U.S. attorney. He remained in the office for 19 years, during which he taught many courses for the U.S. Department of Justice and received the Crime Victims Fund Award.
    • When North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Robert F. Orr resigned in 2004, Newby won a special election to fill the vacant seat. He was re-elected to a second eight-year term in 2012.
    • In 2020, Newby was elected Chief Justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. He will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2027.

Anita Earls, Associate Justice

  • Justice Anita Earls was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2018 and assumed office in January 2019. Earls will need to run for re-election in 2028. She will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2032.
  • Legal Career
    • Prior to her judicial service, Earls was a civil rights attorney with a focus on protecting the fundamental right to vote. After graduating from law school, she began at the civil rights firm Ferguson, Stein, Watt, Wallas, Adkins & Gresham in Charlotte, NC.
    • In 1998, Earls was appointed by President Clinton to be Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Then from 2000 to 2003, she led the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
    • In 2003, Earls returned to North Carolina and joined the UNC Center for Civil Rights as Director of Advocacy.
    • Four years later, she founded a non-profit legal advocacy organization called the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where she remained until her campaign for a seat on the North Carolina Supreme Court.
    • Earls was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2018 and was sworn in January 2019. Her current eight-year term ends in 2026.

Philip Berger Jr., Associate Justice

  • Justice Philip Berger Jr. was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. To remain on the bench, he will need to run for re-election in 2028. He will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2044.
  • Legal Career
    • Berger began his legal career in private practice. In 2001, he started The Berger Law Firm with his father and brother.
    • In 2006, Berger was elected District Attorney in Rockingham County, North Carolina and was re-elected in 2010.
    • He first joined the bench in 2015 as an Administrative Law Judge with the North Carolina Office of Administrative Hearings. A year later, he was elected to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.
    • In 2020, Berger was elected to the Supreme Court and was sworn in January 2021. His current eight-year term ends in 2028.

Tamara Barringer, Associate Justice

  • Justice Tamara Barringer was elected to the Supreme Court in November 2020 and assumed office in January 2021. To remain on the bench, Barringer will need to run for re-election in 2028. She will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in approximately 2031.
  • Legal Career
    • Barringer started her career in private practice with the firm Poyner and Spruill. She then co-founded Barringer Sasser, LLP in Cary, North Carolina, where she worked for over two decades. She primarily represented entrepreneurs and small business clients in business and tax law, estate planning, and estate administration matters. From 2012 to 2018, Barringer was a North Carolina state senator from the 17th district. In 2020, Barringer was elected to her current position on the North Carolina Supreme Court. Her current eight-year term ends in 2028.

Richard Dietz, Associate Justice 

  • Justice Richard Dietz was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022. His current term ends in January 2031. To remain on the bench, he must run for re-election in November of 2030. Justice Deitz will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2049.
  • Legal Career
    • Upon graduation from law school, Dietz clerked for Judge Emory Widener on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and Judge Samuel Wilson on the U.S. District Court in Virginia. Following his clerkships, Dietz went into private practice focusing on litigation. While in private practice, he maintained a diverse legal practice but focused on constitutional law, business, and complex litigation. He remained in private practice until he ran for the supreme court.

Trey Allen, Associate Justice 

  • Justice Trey Allen was elected to the North Carolina Supreme Court in 2022. EARLS To remain on the bench, he must run for re-election in November of 2030. Justice Allen will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in 2046.
  • Legal Career
    • Following law school, Allen served in the Marine Corps as a judge advocate general (JAG). After serving as a JAG, Allen returned to North Carolina and served as a clerk to now-Chief Justice Paul Newby. Upon completion of his clerkship, he joined a private practice firm litigating in state and federal court on civil and constitutional law issues. Then in 2013, Allen joined UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Government where he remained until he joined the North Carolina Administrative Office of the Courts as General Counsel. In 2022, Allen ran for election to the North Carolina Supreme Court and won.

Allison Riggs, Associate Justice

  • Justice Allison Riggs was first appointed to the North Carolina Supreme Court in September 2023 to fill the vacancy left by Justice Michael Morgan resigning from the bench. She will need to run for election in 2024 to serve for a full eight-year term. She will reach the state’s mandatory retirement age in approximately 2053.
  • Legal Career
    • Upon graduation from law school at the Levin College of Law at the University of Florida in 2009, Riggs joined the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ) as a staff attorney. She spent her career advocating for civil rights throughout the south with SCSJ later working as a Senior Attorney, Chief Counsel for Voting Rights, and eventually Co-Executive Director of the organization.
    • In December of 2022, Gov. Cooper appointed Riggs to the Court of Appeals. She took office in January 2023 until her appointment to the state supreme court in September 2023.
Noteworthy Cases

Access to Justice 

  • State v. Hobbs (2020)
    • The Court ordered a new hearing in a murder trial to determine whether race was the primary factor for a prosecutor striking Black citizens from the jury pool. Additionally, the Court provided guidance on how lower courts should address racial discrimination in jury selection.
  • Chambers v. Moses H. Cone Mem. Hosp. (2020)
    • The plaintiff filed a class action lawsuit claiming that the defendant hospital systematically overbilled uninsured ER patients, but the hospital dismissed his bill to render the lawsuit moot. The Court recognized a new exception to the mootness doctrine “when a named plaintiff’s individual claim becomes moot before the plaintiff has had a fair opportunity to pursue class certification and has otherwise acted without undue delay regarding class certification.”

Criminal Justice 

  • North Carolina v. Tucker (2023)
    • In a 5-1 opinion, the North Carolina Supreme Court denied a death row inmate’s post-conviction motion to vacate his conviction and death sentence due to discrimination during his jury selection process. The court ruled the inmate’s motion was barred because he had failed to raise a claim of purposeful discrimination during previous appeals, despite the fact that evidence to support his claim did not come to light until years after his previous appeals had taken place.
  • State v. Ramseur (2020)
    • The Court considered the North Carolina General Assembly’s repeal of the state’s Racial Justice Act, which created mechanisms for criminal defendants to challenge their death sentences on the ground that race was a significant factor in the prosecution. The Court held that it was unconstitutional to deny hearings to those who had filed claims before the law was repealed.
  • State v. Copley (2020)
    • The Court found that a prosecutor could invoke race in the closing argument when the defendant, a white man who killed a Black man, made racially discriminatory comments to police officers at the time of the killing.
  • State v. James (2017) –Juvenile Justice
    • Plaintiffs, who were sentenced to life without parole as teenagers, argued that the state law violated the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Miller v. Alabama, which held that mandatory sentence of life without parole for minors are unconstitutional. The North Carolina Supreme Court found that the state law was constitutional and did not create a presumptive sentence of life without parole.

Democracy and Voting Rights  

  • Harper v. Hall (2023)
    • The state supreme court shockingly reheard multiple decisions it had recently delivered in late 2022. Here, the court overruled its previous decision blocking partisan gerrymandered congressional maps.
  • Holmes v. Moore (2023)
    • In another case reheard by the North Carolina Supreme Court’s new majority, the court again overruled a recent decision from late 2022 and greenlit a racially discriminatory voter ID law.
  • Community Success Initiative v. Moore (2023)
    • The court upheld the state’s felon disenfranchisement law, which states that any person with a current felony conviction is ineligible to vote. This measure was opposed by many because the individual’s ability to vote was contingent upon their ability to pay court fees. Under current law, the state

Education 

  • Deminski v. State Bd. Of Education (2022)
    • The Court held that a student can bring a claim under the state Constitution when a school district is deliberately indifferent to continuous student harassment. The Court reversed the Court of Appeals ruling, which held that the student-plaintiffs, who’d faced bullying and sexual harassment at school and ultimately withdrew, did not have a viable claim.
  • Hoke County Board of Education v. State (2022)
    • In 1997 and 2004, the Court ruled that the state had an obligation to provide a sound and basic education for all children. Since then, litigation has been ongoing as to whether the state has adequately remedied the harm. This year, the Court will rule as to whether the state’s judicial branch has power to order the executive branch to allocate more funds to educational spending.
  • State v. Kinston Charter School (2021)
    • The Court found that charter schools within the state are not immune to civil lawsuits because they are private entities, not state agencies.
  • Hart v. State (2015)
    • The Court upheld the state’s voucher program, which provides state educational funding for low-income students who want to attend private schools.

Environment  

  • Duke Energy Carolinas, LLC v. Kiser (2023)
    • The Court unanimously asserted Duke Power Company’s water property rights on Lake Norman, an artificial lake created by Duke after the purchase of the land from multiple homeowners. The Kiser family only sold Duke an easement on their property. The Kiser family then attempted to build a retaining wall bordering the lake further than standards require, so Duke claimed trespassing and the wall interfered with their water rights. The Kisers then went further and attempted to assert rights to the entire lake.
  • State ex rel. Utilities Comm’n v. Virginia Elec. and Power Co. (2022)
    • The Court upheld the North Carolina Utilities Commission’s decision lengthening the period that a utility company is allowed to raise its rates from within a five year period to a ten year period. The commission expanded the period in order to strike a better
How to Weigh In On Your Supreme Court
  • North Carolina will hold its general election on Tuesday, November 5, 2024.
    • Check your voter registration status here. Not registered? You can register to vote online or in-person through your state DMV or by-mail. To register to vote online, access and submit your application here.
    • North Carolina (thanks to the state Supreme Court) now requires all voters to have a valid photo ID to vote or to mail a photocopy of their ID in with their ballot. Learn more about photo ID in NC here.
  • Ways to vote in North Carolina
    • Learn more about vote-by-mail here
    • Learn more about voting early in-person here
    • Learn more about voting in-person on Election Day here
  • Important dates to know
    • October 11, 2024: voter registration deadline
    • October 17-November 2, 2024: early voting period
    • October 29, 2024: last day to request your absentee ballot
    • November 5, 2024: election day (all absentee ballots are due!)